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Lester solid in Triple-A game; Bard has issues

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  March 22, 2013 04:22 PM

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jon Lester went 5.1 innings against Minnesota's Triple A team at the Red Sox complex on Friday. The lefthander allowed two runs on four hits with one walk and seven strikeouts.

There were no more than 50 fans watching as Lester threw 100 pitches, 59 for strikes. Pitching coach Juan Nieves skipped the trip to Dunedin to monitor Lester. Teammate John Lackey also watched from the side.

The point of the day was to get to 95-100 pitches. But Lester also took the opportunity to work on some things. He told catcher Dan Butler to call some change-ups when he got behind in the count.

Lester stayed with his spring training theme of working with a quicker tempo.

Lester retired 11 of the first 13 batters he faced. One reached on an error and the other on a single. He had some issues in the fifth inning when the Twins strung together two singles, a walk and a two-run double. Lester struck out the next batter then Nieves decided the inning was over after 22 pitches.

(Yes, in spring training minor league games the rules are loosely enforced. The Twins actually had 10 players in the lineup.)

Lester will pitch again Wednesday, this time against the Marlins. That will probably be a shorter outing — four innings or so — to prepare him for Opening Day against the Yankees on April 1.

"Absolutely," Lester said when asked if he had anything left to accomplish in spring training. "Just the same stuff over and over, keep pounding it home. Like today, pitching in the stretch, got back to making adjustments. It's always a work in progress."

Lester is pleased with how he's throwing his curveball, a pitch that sometimes has been hard for him to get control of in spring training.

"It depends on where you're at mechanically. For me a curveball is so mechanical that it sometimes it takes me a little bit longer and sometimes like this year I feel good where I'm at," he said. "There's been years I haven't thrown any in spring training."

Two other items worth mentioning:

Even though Lester has worked with Jarrod Saltalamacchia only once this spring, he said he has no problems working with the catcher. Salty did catch him 19 times last season.

Lester also said he's not particularly concerned with his diminishing strikeout rate. It has dropped from 2009, going from 10.0 per nine innings to 7.3 last season.

"A strike out for me is one of those stats that makes it look cool," Lester said. "It's fun to strike out guys. But it's also a lot of pitches."

Told that many analysts consider strikeout rate a good indicator of pitching talent, Lester smiled a bit.

"Why is that? I don't get that," he said. "Just cause you strike a bunch of guys out doesn't mean you're a good pitcher. You know what I mean? I think you can have good seasons without a lot of strikeouts. In '08 I didn't strike a lot of guys out. But I had a good season, won some games. Was able to get some contact and still threw 200 innings."

Lester averaged a modest 6.5 strikeouts in 2008 and went 16-6, 3.21. So he has a point. That said, a lefty with his kind of stuff should pile up the K's. Here's betting his rate jumps this season. Nieves has been a good influence on him.

Meanwhile the silly cat-and-mouse game about whether Lester will start on Opening Day continued. He is obviously their choice but no announcement has been made and Lester claims John Farrell hasn't told him anything.

"You guys know anything?" he asked reporters. "I don't know. I know we're in New York. I have not been told anything. I'm looking to Wednesday and then go from there. I'm sure you guys will probably find out before I do on what's going on."

Bet that's not the case. Call it a hunch.

Meanwhile Farrell has yet to announce a starter.

"I think he's just messing with y'all," Lester said. "I just think he doesn't want to tell anybody. We're still waiting to figure everything out."

Also:

• Daniel Bard couldn't get through an inning in the Double A game. He allowed a broken-bat single before walking two batters. After Nieves visited the mound, Bard struck the next two batters out. He hit the next batter and was taken out of the game after 27 pitches, 14 of them strikes.

Bard has had two rough outings in a row. The righthander seems likely to start the season with Triple A Pawtucket.

"I feel I'm in such a better place," Bard said, comparing this spring to his torturous 2012 season. "I feel I'm in control."

Bard feels like his mechanics have improved and with that his velocity. But today was a stark reminder that he's still not back to the pitcher he once was.

• RHP Clayton Mortensen threw an uneventful inning in the AA game. He needed just 12 pitches for three outs.

• One of the batters against Lester was Milford’s Chris Colabello, the pride of Milford. He has had quite a journey to this point.

Colabello struck out looking and singled against Lester.

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